How the heck do we build culture remotely with Jeff Melnyk, Founding Partner at Within People

If culture is really going to be lived, we have to see values embedded into all the processes.

– Jeff Melnyk

On this episode of the On Work and Revolution podcast, Debbie talks with Jeff Melnyk, an exemplary coach and the Founding Partner of Within People – a company dedicated to working at the intersection of culture, brand, and strategy to support businesses in embedding their purpose and values into their work-life. Workplace culture is a hot topic. We all have heard and know that companies with a great workplace culture, outperform companies without one. But how do we codify and embed culture into the workplace? Jeff Melnyk is the perfect person to ask. In this episode, we dig deep into the new world of building strong and effective work cultures remotely. 

Debbie & Jeff discuss:

✓ What a workplace culture is and how to build it remotely.
✓ How to translate and codify your company values and behaviours into a remote world of work.
✓ How the hybrid work model create extra challenges for workplace culture.
✓ How culture doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the HR professional.

About our guest, Jeff Melnyk:  

Jeff is a coach and founding partner of Within People. Jeff’s passion lies in enabling business leaders to reimagine success and achieve their goals – by understanding their values and the intention that sit at the heart of what they do. He has delivered organizational change programs for global clients including British Land, One&Only Resorts, UNESCO, Mondelēz International, Amy’s Kitchen, Cartier and Woolworths South Africa.

He is committed to helping Within People be a model business, driven by purpose, values and an employee experience that reflects a strong commitment to inclusion and equity.

Within People help leaders find purpose and grow the company they love. They are growth strategists and coaches who work at the intersection of culture, brand, and strategy to support businesses in embedding purpose and values, and build the capacity to use culture as an asset for growth. Based in San Francisco, London, Vancouver and Cape Town, Within work across all sectors and in markets around the world – from tech startups to the built environment and creative consultancies to luxury brands. Jeff is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for his commitment to supporting brands to create positive social change.

Helpful Links:
Follow Jeff on LinkedIn

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript


Debbie Goodman  00:04

Welcome to On Work and Revolution where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work right now and how we can make work life suck less. For me, I’m always aiming for a slightly higher bar than that, right? So I’m hoping for an amazing workplace, but suck less – there are certain days where – ‘We’ll go with that!’ Right? I’m your host, Debbie Goodman, and today we have Jeff Melnyk, chatting to us as our guest. So, Jeff, Jeff Melnyk, and I we could be brothers from another mother, listen to the first two lines of his bio. It says, ‘I believe we should all have the opportunity to do work we love, that changing the world starts with a change within ourselves, and that we can each be pioneers, creating amazing workplaces to work where people are free to realize their dreams.” Jeff, you and me, we’re here to help create amazing workplaces in the world! Right!? So Jeff is the founding partner of Within People, which is a consultancy that works with amazing brands, helping to connect people to purpose, build incredible leadership, teams, and culture, all of which is intended to drive growth. To date, they have taken more than 100 companies brands that you know and love on this journey and within has also scaled, profitably might I add, to three continents in five years. Wow. He must be good. He’s been recognized as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for his commitment to supporting brands for positive social change. Wow. And the passion for creating amazing workplaces Jeff, that’s not our only connection point. Jeff is a music artist. He’s the founder, co-founder and producer at Gaymonkey Records, which is an incredible music platform for artists. Their music has won prizes and topped downvote charts. Jeff, I’ve known you for years, and I didn’t realize you were still side hustling with this.


Jeff Melnyk  02:06

How freaking amazing. Debbie, I love that you slipped that in? Thank you!


Debbie Goodman  02:12

I mean, that’s like the coolest thing. You got your regular day job. And you got this other amazing day job.



I mean, and it’s hard. Sometimes people are like, how do you like, okay, so like, you’re like the coach, consultant guy, or like the purpose thing, blah, blah, blah, oh, and the what says Gaymonkey thing. And you said it like it’s like two brains that people can put together. But obviously, all these pieces of the puzzle fit together, don’t they?


Debbie Goodman  02:34

They do. I mean, I sometimes think that when I explain to people that I used to be a professional choreographer, dancer, director… that’s like the most interesting thing about me. They don’t really care about all the other business stuff that I’ve done. That is like the thing that they are so interested to hear about. Yesterday, I delivered a virtual keynote to a group of HR leaders on Hybrid Work Models in a post pandemic work-life, and realize that the questions that were coming in, people are really struggling with figuring out how to build a culture and a sense of belonging remotely. And I did not have very good answers for them. So they were asking me questions, and I was just faking it. And then I remembered that THE guy who is an expert on this particular topic, was coming on the podcast, On Work and Revolution -that was like, perfect timing!



Yeah, I mean, it’s the hot topic, isn’t it? And I think when you overlay the other hot topic of flexibility into that OooooOOoo, now, leaders have got a real quagmire, don’t they? Yeah, like, I don’t think a lot of people, really think about what they need to do when it comes to creating & nurturing growing cultures. I think a lot of people think like, oh, well, maybe we’ll map it out, so we’ll have some purpose, we’ll have some values, you know, and then then we’ve got a culture right? Or we’ve got, you know, we’ve got some great things in the office like we can bring our dogs in, that was used to be my favorite thing. We have a really great culture because we have dogs in the office. That was my bugbear pre-pandemic. Thank goodness, the pandemic took the office away, because I didn’t have to hear that anymore. Now we just have kids in the Zoom screen. That was a different one. But I think I do think that most leaders aren’t really thinking about what culture is, and what it means for their growth for a business. And you have a culture whether or not you’ve defined it or not, right? Culture is everything. If you’ve got people in the business, you’re going to have culture – so if it’s how do we work with culture? How do we understand it? How do we grow culture? That needs to be the first thing that people are thinking about? And then we can talk about remote/flexible/hybrid, right? Yeah.


Debbie Goodman  04:55

The way that I’ve understood culture because you and I have been working together for a number of years, so I’m a little bit more schooled, I think than your average person is – it’s essentially like the way we do things around here. And as you said, there’s a culture regardless of whether it’s one that supports people to have a healthy work life, or one that is ruthless and brutal and demoralizing. The culture is the way we do things around here. So and I do think that particularly for, in the context of remote, I think the question is coming from the sense of we have people who are feeling disconnected, disengaged, and then we have new people who joining our company, who have no idea of how we do things around here, and how do we describe it? And how do we explain it? And how do we have them both know it and feel it? When, when it’s not codified? And where it’s really hard to get a sense of, how do we do things around here,



Right! So if it’s the way we do things around here, to have some clarity on that, you have to have something written down, that sort of says, this is the way we do things around here. So your values are a first protocol, right? Because our values are the behaviors of our culture. So this is how we show up here. That’s one really great thing that sort of codifies, the way we do things around here. That could also be you know, a part of our values is how we collaborate. But there could be different processes or ways of being in the employee experience, that show how we work with each other. So that’s quite important to kind of get right. The rituals we have in the culture, also the way we do things around here, right. And I well, I often explain it to like, if I go to France, and I get, I want to get a sense of the culture, and I observed the way they are doing things, that’s going to be different than if I go to Argentina, or if I go to China, because different cultures have different ways of doing things. And I can observe those, I can feel them. I can sense them. They’re, they’re experiential. So once we have a bit of clarity on what those ways are, those things are very teachable, aren’t they? So I know what they are. So I can explain them to you. And I can say, Okay, you new joiner have come from company X. Welcome to our wonderful unicorn land. Let me explain you how we do things around here. And I think that’s the step that’s first missed in onboarding, isn’t it? It’s like welcome. Here’s your desk, here’s your computer, or here’s just some stuff, some tasks get going remote worker, and there’s no way of sort of bringing people into that understanding and experience of this is how we do things around here. So surely, the first part of call after we’ve written it down is how do we how do we teach it? How do we explain it?


Debbie Goodman  07:46

So I think just to go back a bit, that I think that there are a number of companies and certainly companies that I advise, because when we brief with them to do a leadership search, they will ask them questions about so what’s the culture like? And how, how do things work around here, and they often do have some kind of document that’s in some kind of file and some kind of platform saying, yeah, there we go. And they’ll haul it out. And they will, they will often actually be something that is written down. And it’s usually something that is aspirational, something about how they wish the culture might be something that in their belief system, it’s this is how it is coming from maybe a few people who collaborated on this particular document. And then it’s used to in some kind of onboarding, pack that is sent to a new joiner, or it’s hauled out from time to time at the annual or quarterly retreat, but it’s not lived. And people don’t know it. And it’s, and it often doesn’t bear resemblance to the actual lived experience of people. And particularly, and let’s just take the scenario of our remote work world, where when people used to go into a physical place where they spent most of their time together, it was kind of easier, I think, to have a sense of how do things work around here, certainly in one smaller world. Is it hard? Is it harder? Maybe that’s just an assumption that I’m making? How does both the words of of how we work around here and the feeling, how does that get transmitted to people who’ve not necessarily met each other in person who have not gone into a physical space does have a sense of the energy and the vibe? How do we do that?


Jeff Melnyk  09:29

We’re human beings, and we are extrasensory. So we pick up on things, don’t we? So we pick up things that we see we pick up things that we hear the feelings of stuff, so that that makes it a little bit harder. But if if our values tell us the behaviors of our culture, then it’s the actions that really lead us into really understanding how we do things around here and those that shouldn’t matter if you’re fully remote hybrid in the metaverse. It shouldn’t really matter because I can still sense and feel and experience something based on the way people show up and behave. So one of our values that within is learned together, right? So so that embodies like, I have a responsibility then as a founder to not only help people learn, but also that I am a receiver of learning. So it’s learned together, it’s not learned from Jeff, right. So underpinning that behavior is a real an underpinning that value are some behaviors that really explicitly say, I have, I have to show up to that by giving being generous with my time. So rather, if I was in an office, how might I do that? So that might mean that okay, well, maybe we go for lunch together, or maybe I spend more time training you or whatever, how is that any different from a remote experience. So if I’m going to live that value of learning together, if a new joiner, who’s joining our team remotely, and by the way, we are a fully remote business, and always have been, that means I have to be generous with my time. So if I if I don’t show up to that value, and someone says, Hey, can I get grabbed 10 minutes of your time, I just want to go through something. I’m struggling with this right now. And I go, sure, but look at my calendar, and I’ll see you next Tuesday, then how am I living that value? And how would that be any different than if I closed my door in the office and said, speak to my PA and you can schedule some time with me? That’s going to show up in either case


Debbie Goodman  11:17

is we’ve got listeners who are HR professionals, and facilitators and consultants and coaches and doing this type of work in their organizations. And so what I’m hearing is that where there is some kind of well codified set of values and behaviors, part of the work now is to determine what does this mean in how does one translate this into the Remote Setup? If you weren’t remote previously, and you are hybrid or remote? Now? How do we translate the values, the actions, the behaviors, into what this means for us now in this different scenario, to not just have the labels, the words, but also really rethink what this means in terms of how do we do this learn together or plan for excellence, or whatever it is in a different setup. And I think that that’s like a really helpful next step. Like we need to think about how to live this in a different way. And it’s not very difficult to actually now that I’m saying it, that shouldn’t be too complex. My question is,


Jeff Melnyk  12:22

and it might not be that different as well. And I think using stories around what does it look like rather than just oh, we need a policy of something that’s not going to really change something. But like, in this context of when we’re working remotely, what does learn together look like? And if we were together in a physical space, what would it look like? What’s the commonality between those two things so that people can see those because, I mean, the reality is, most companies are probably going to be more hybrid than they are going to be remote, or physical. And hybrid comes with its own challenges, because now you’re working with two different energies.


Debbie Goodman  12:59

We created our own codified we actually call the twatter TA, which stands for I love acronyms. So it stands for the way we do things around here. And we created this amazing document, which was an explanation of, of our values performed to win beyond the obvious, built connection, but it was actually taken into how we work. And we use that both for new people joining our company at jackhammer, we shared it with our clients, everybody just loved it, because it was just such a cool way of explaining the culture and values. And I must just say that that was not an original idea. I actually got that idea from some other fabulous company out there called I did adapt it. And then recently, what we’ve done is I said, Okay, guys, we need to update this because we are we used to be a mostly in office. And then there were some people who worked a bit remotely, we had one full time remote person. And now we are hybrid, but mostly remote, because I think the team goes into the office in our Africa office, every second week, every second Friday. That’s our cadence for in office time. So it’s mostly remote. And I said, Well, I think we need to really reflect on all of the twatter ta the way we do things around here. How are we doing things around here now? Because they have certainly changed and how have we applied some of the principles in our new world? Where is it similar? And where is it very different? And are we still living up to those values have built connection? Look beyond the obvious perform to win? And how is it different? And so it was really interesting to see the stories that came back from the team because we co created this new version of our Twitter hybrid version. Yeah, exactly. So you know, we co created the first one and so it was really interesting to see how people are making sense of what how we’re living those values. Now in this slightly iterative new, newish world.


Jeff Melnyk  15:00

Why don’t companies do more of that all the time. I mean, you’ve there’s been a disruption. This is the new world, there’s hybrid or there’s remote. But But like you said before, if we codified our values, and then we just put them in a drawer, then we’re not actually living them. And if their behaviors, we should see them in action, which means we can assess them. So one thing that we do with our clients, as well as take those values, and really clearly articulate the range of behaviors that sit within the behavior, so what is what is expected of you? What does it look like when we work at our best? And what does it look like when we don’t work at our best? And I think in even in doing that you could go, what did what does it look like when we’ve got some additional challenges like hybrid? What are the expectations that we might have around that so that those expectations are clear, because you see what happens with things like hybrid, right? I have two people are in the office, some people are on the screen, the people on screen get ignored, because everyone in the office is talking. So you can have agreements around the way we work in that in that environment. Right? That’s very clear. But if your behaviors and your values say things like the way that we collaborate, those are very easily measurable. And so everybody can be held accountable to that. And I think that’s the bit that that a lot of businesses, they, they sort of draw the line that we have a culture, we’ve got some values, but we don’t actually hold each other to account to them. We don’t use them for performance appraisals, because surely, we should just be getting the work done. So they forget that the quality of how they do things around here leads them towards excellence of delivering on their purpose and their vision. And when I look at a business and I see, okay, you’ve got values, you’ve got them written down great. But if you’re not using them to recruit, if you’re not using them to onboard, if you’re not using them to create your your rituals, looking at how you review performance, if you’re not using them to hold people accountable for the way you do things around here, don’t bother having them. Right, and so that if culture is really going to be lived, we have to see values embedded into all of those processes. And as you said, many of our listeners here are going to be HR practitioners. Let’s take them off the hook here. Because I think a lot of what I just said sounds like those are HR practices. Absolutely not. This is something that every leader manager and employee is accountable for our values are common within the business there for everyone. It is values are not an HR artifact, they are for everyone.


Debbie Goodman  17:31

I advise companies and you know, VC backed startup companies and more established firms, big corporations, and I too frequently hear from the sea level, or executive level in a company that they need some cultural work done. And they need this culture work done by HR or Chief People Officer or whatever it is. And like, just get a consulting company into like, do this HR stuff this to do this culture stuff. There’s almost like this dismissiveness around this sidebar, that is culture. They know that it’s important. They’ve been told that at business school or somewhere that, you know, companies that live and have a living, breathing set of values that they that they are working with all the time outperform? So there’s this recognition that it’s like one of those important things that you should attend to, but there’s no real embracing of taking it on themselves. And it’s put to the side as an HR job do why does that happen in the first place? And then how do you handle that?


Jeff Melnyk  18:38

Well, I think first, I don’t think HR professionals are yet like schooled and trained themselves in developing codifying, developing and strengthening cultures within organizations. I, it’s the sort of if you see what’s happened in the sort of evolution of HR from personnel into HR now with the people and culture team, like we can see the people are trying to go, oh, we have people in our business. So what that thing Oh, so we’re making a thing? Oh, yeah, I guess people are making the thing. Oh, I guess we got to do something with the people. And most executives aren’t really schooled either in how to deal with the people. So they go and they get their MBA, and they’re told that culture is important. But they’re not taught how to deal with human dynamics, are they and so and the world of work has changed so much that we are realizing that actually, human capital is important. The way that you know, we that we use people inside business is quite sensitive now. Right? Like, we have to like take care of people, their well being is important. Oh, gosh, that’s a bit hard, isn’t it? How do I deal with different kinds of individuals in my organization, and it becomes really, really tough. So I think I think executives are not only responding to the Oh yes, we know that cultures are going to help drive our growth. I don’t really know how but that’s fine, I can outsource that to also understanding that organizational dynamics are difficult and people are hard. And isn’t it easier if we can just like, make some software and roll it out to some companies? And they’ll just buy our things? Oh, crap, I’ve got engineers that are gonna do that. I don’t know how to do that. Like, it’s tough, isn’t it,


Debbie Goodman  20:19

The process of doing this work of co-creation, particularly, let’s say it’s a new team, or, you know, there’s been, there’s been a lot of remoteness, and we weren’t able to get together. But I know workshops, which is typically the way in which this culture work. I’ve got like inverted commas, culture work, typically gets done in facilitated workshops, hostile settings, that pre pandemic was always done in person, almost always. And then I know that you were figuring out how to facilitate sessions remotely. And now that we have the option, when you had to do the work mostly remotely, was it as effective as doing the work in a group workshop setting? And now what do you recommend.



Because we were remote, always business, we pivoted super fast to doing things online and using collaborative tools that we could do that and making them fun and engaging. It is, I mean, look, I love doing things in a room, I get a lot of energy out of people, I I’m a coach, so I can read them and understand them. We work with like multiple cultures at once as well, you know, we’ve we’ve done stuff with UNESCO, where I’ve got like 20 different languages in a room. So we’ve got the Russian table over there, and the, you know, French delegates over there. And like, that’s our, that’s our power, like, within like, we’re good at that stuff. But doing it online offers you a really interesting way to globally do that as well. I mean, like, when I was doing a lot of the work pre pandemic, I was on a plane quite often, that’s quite tiring, I quite enjoy that I can do global work in time zones in one day. It’s a wonderful gift that the pandemic gives us, it actually brought us closer in many of those in many ways like that. I think, I think we have to recognize that we are working in a hybrid situation now, there are going to be people who are not going to come to a workshop in-person, because they have the ability now to say I’m just not going to do that, right? I can’t, I’m a carer, I’ve got to take care of people at home, I’ve, I’ve got kids, I’m not going to commute an hour, or I moved out to San Francisco and I now live in Montana, so I can’t come at all. So, you have to design for a hybrid situation, and you have to be inclusive. So that that’s a creative challenge. And I think all teams are working through that they’re finding wonderful ways to, to collaborate. And I think people are enjoying that experience. Now I’ve seen really great hybrid experiences where I think the outcome was better, because of the tools that they’re using and the way that they’re engaging with each other. And that teams are really good at doing that now. I think we also have to recognize that not all people do work that way too. So we Amy’s Kitchen is one of our big clients in the in the US. And we’re working with them on their employee experience in their manufacturing plants. Those people cannot work hybrid or remote because they are folding burritos and making amazing organic vegetarian food every day. And the challenge there is – how are we going to engage as many people in our manufacturing plants without shutting the plant down? Because we got to keep the lion running. So how do we design a process where people can come and engage with things and leave their opinions, almost like a little bit of a roadshow experience, but they can do that in bite sized ways it feels really meaningful. And I think I love every one of those challenges because that to me, bring it back to the Gaymonkey story, if you can do things like that, that is that to me is like creating music or a show or when you’re going to put on a production is like how do you make something that is a seamless experience for somebody that allows them to bring their best creativity to something because they are so in an immersed and engaged in the content you’re providing them. And that to me is just creativity. And I think throw those challenges at us and we will find the way. And I think teams should be able to do that too. I think that’s like in your business, be creative people. I think the other thing that as you were talking that really struck me is, if we embrace this new space and really understand how powerful it is. Can we also see how it can drive equity in our businesses because now suddenly everybody can have a voice, everybody can be involved in the culture, if it is was just the shop floor. And it was all about you know, being in person, quite often, the most marginalized didn’t have a voice. I mean, that is the truth most of society – but when you’ve got a space now where we can you use these tools and you’ve got great facilitators or coaches who can, who can really get the most out of them or leaders, I hope who’ve learned how to do this. Can you then see that you are creating a much more equitable organization and I believe if you can do that, you are changing the system because you’ve changed your own system. And if you change your own system, you’re changing a system in society. And that is the dream that I have. Change your system, make it more equitable, give power to everyone because they are powerful. See, what they can do is unleash creativity. What a wonderful place that we could be living in. Just Utopia unicorns.


Debbie Goodman  25:36

The perfect soundbite to end this episode. So thank you so much.


Jeff Melnyk  25:42

Hopefully, people have found this helpful.


Debbie Goodman  25:44

I have no doubt Thank you, Jeff! And let’s create amazing workplaces!



people, work, culture, values, remote, pandemic, hybrid, companies, creating, living, behaviors, business, jeff, office, world, joiner, remotely, hr, challenges, hear



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